Proclamation, Not Argument

At publication date for this newsletter the largest legislative body in the world, General Convention (GC) of The Episcopal Church, is in session. GC meets every three years, and comprises both the legislative and judicial branches of the Church. GC has over 600 delegates (both clergy and lay), and then one must add to this number the bishops (at least one) for over 100 dioceses. All told there are somewhere near 800 delegates.

Regardless of your politics and/or theology, it can be easy to complain about Church governance, but consider the alternatives. Absent a representational body of clergy and lay, decisions could be made without debate or could be made in such a decentralized fashion as to preclude the building of a broader identity. The reality is that most complaints heard about GC and most Church bodies relate to disagreements about competence, i.e. about whether issues of theological doctrine are subject to legislative fiat, or whether an issue is in fact theological, as opposed to political.

Let’s look at an example from outside the Church. The biologist Richard Dawkins has made a lot of noise (and money) attacking faith as a “delusion”. The fair question to pose to Prof. Dawkins would be about how his scientific expertise and learning qualifies him to offer any insights on matters that are not subject to the scientific method of enquiry. It makes as much sense to pay attention to a biologist arguing about theology as to pay attention to me arguing about the mechanism of genetic mutation. I am not a biologist/geneticist! I can understand some of the arguments they make, but I am not competent to add original thought to their debates.

So, when we get upset, it is often because we question why or how someone can make decisions about matters they don’t seem qualified to offer insights in. When people inside the Church view debates as political, they tend to “check out” or get angry. When people outside the Church encounter churches focusing on issues that are not theological, they tend to either ignore us (i.e., they question our competence) or we come across as conflating the faith with issues and agendas which may in fact be political or economic or scientific, but not theological or moral.

The Church must speak with authority on those matters in which the Church is competent to speak, and should not speak in matters outside of her competence. In other words, the Church should proclaim—and boldly—in matters relating to salvation, new life in Christ, fallenness and redemption; about justice, about how God reveals Himself and His will to us. There will certainly be overlap between what the Church must proclaim and matters that can otherwise be classified as involving the physical sciences, economic policy and politics, but too often the world around us hears the Church speak loudly about issues, or about sociopolitical agendas, and this ends up diluting what we are called to be—God’s prophetic voice calling all people to receive the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. We are not here to argue, but to proclaim, and to be seen to be Christ-centered rather than agenda-driven or issue-oriented.

Which brings us to our new web-based ministries, which I will refer to in short as One Foundation (Jesus Christ). Most of you now have some details regarding the plan to launch new web-based ministries that will include prayer, worship and teaching. In all that we do in ministry and outreach we will strive always to proclaim. We will strive to be, and to be identified to be, Christ-centered, and not identified with any agenda or issue. We will strive, as well, to always be about proclamation rather than argument. The content of our proclamation will not be about what others are doing or not doing, and whether or not we agree with them, but about what God is doing! To do otherwise is to risk: (a) being identified as just another voice shouting about how others have to change; and/or (b) looking a silly as a professor of biology who pontificates about matters of theology, rather than limiting his pronouncements to those that relate to his expertise.

The world around us is hungry for truth. Our mission involves proclaiming the truth. If ever we become identified just with an issue or agenda, we lose any ability to truly proclaim. More threateningly, we lose our identity as the Body of Christ. Identity matters to individuals, and to the Body of Christ. We, like Paul, must be all things to all people (1 Cor. 9.19-23), but to do this we must be so identified with Christ that His presence is unchanged in any of our human vagaries and adaptability. In the words of the famous hymn by Samuel John Stone (no. 525 in the hymnal), “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord ...”. It will be in incarnating Christ that we can truly reach out to those who seek. It won’t be because they think we might agree with them about “issue X”, or be in common cause with them on “agenda Y”, but because they can get little glimpses of Jesus Christ in who we are and what we say and do.

“All the world’s a stage.” All the web’s a stage. It will be in our identity in Christ that we will be genuine, and can genuinely proclaim.

Yours in Christ Jesus,

The Rev. Dr. Karl C. Schaffenburg

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